Can I get both the flu and COVID at the same time?

COVID-19, Family Health
Oct 15, 2020

St. Joseph’s/Candler Occupational Health Manager addresses some commonly asked questions and misconceptions about the flu, COVID and vaccination

More so than ever, health experts strongly encourage everyone six months and older to get a flu shot this year. That’s because there’s a risk of catching both influenza and COVID-19 at the same time.

That would be very bad for your lungs since they are both respiratory viruses, says Laura Floyd, registered nurse and manager of St. Joseph’s/Candler Occupational Health Services.

Laura Floyd

Flu and COVID-19 are both contagious respiratory illnesses, but they are caused by different viruses. COVID-19 is caused by infection with a new coronavirus called SARS-CoV-2. Flu is caused by infection with influenza viruses.

Flu and COVID-19 share many characteristics, but there are some key differences between the two. One being their symptoms.

Related Article: Is it COVID-19, the flu or just seasonal allergies?

Vaccines for both the flu and COVID-19 are available, so why not get those to reduce your chances of getting both illnesses at the same time?

“I think it’s the responsible thing to do because there are vaccines available so these illnesses are preventable in a lot of ways,” Floyd says. “It keeps us safe, our families safe and our patients safe.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends flu vaccination in the month of October. This is especially important for those with underlying health conditions such as lung disease, obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease, cancer, kidney/liver disease or those over age 65 because they are at greater risk of severe complications of the flu. These are also the same people who are at higher risk for complications from COVID-19.

“It’s a good vaccine. It’s safe,” Floyd says. “It’s not 100 percent effective, but there is evidence that if you get a strain of the flu not covered in the vaccine, your illness could be shorter and milder.”

Related Article: Why it's so important to get your yearly flu shot

Floyd addresses some frequently asked questions and common misconceptions about the flu, the vaccine and COVID-19.

Will a flu vaccine protect me against COVID-19?

No, they are separate viruses. However, getting a flu vaccine this fall will be more important than ever, not only to reduce your risk from flu, but also to help conserve our healthcare resources.

Does a flu vaccination increase your risk of getting COVID-19?

There is no evidence that getting a flu vaccination increases your risk of getting sick from a coronavirus, like the one that causes COVID-19.

I’m already masking and distancing, so I won’t catch the flu.

It’s true that your risk of catching the flu is less if you mask and distance, but most people do not mask 100 percent of the time. As colder weather sets in, people move indoors where transmission is more likely.

I’m young and healthy, so the flu isn’t dangerous for me.

Influenza can cause severe illness in any age group. If you get sick, that’s time lost at work. Also, since you’re contagious for one to two days before showing symptoms, there is a risk of infecting friends and family who may be at high risk for complications even if you are not that sick.

I heard the flu vaccine isn’t that effective.

The effectiveness varies from year to year depending on how closely the strains in the vaccine match what’s in the community. Even if it’s not an exact match, studies have shown that vaccinated people may experience a less severe course of the flu, meaning fewer trips to the doctor, fewer hospitalizations and less ‘down’ time.

Can the flu vaccine give me the flu?

No, flu vaccines given with a needle are made with inactivated (killed) viruses. Some people report having mild side effects after flu vaccination. The most common side effects from flu shots are soreness, redness, tenderness or swelling where the shot was given. Low-grade fever, headache and muscle aches also may occur. If these reactions occur, they usually begin soon after vaccination and last one to two days.

Where can I get a flu shot?

Flu shots are readily available – and oftentimes free, covered by insurance or available at a low cost – at many neighborhood pharmacies, your primary care doctor’s office and the public health department. Now is the time to get your flu shot. 

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